Columnists / From the Editor

From the Editor: ‘Four wheels good, two wheels better’

By martin booth, Monday Jun 10, 2019

Whether they be about gentrification by Instagram or seven reasons why one person is leaving Bristol, opinion pieces are often the articles on Bristol24/7 that get our readers talking the most.

If these articles are not opinionated, then they are not doing their job properly.

But our recent opinion piece, ‘It took all my strength not to push the cyclist off’, written by Judith Brown, the chair of Bristol Older People’s Forum, should not have appeared online in the way that it did.

I did not see Judith’s piece before it was published. If I had, it would never have been published in its original form. I apologise for causing any offence to anybody, whether they ride a bike, walk or drive a car.

I shall fight tooth and nail for the rights of anybody’s opinions to be published, but advocating violence against a group of people is a step too far.

Judith is rightly concerned that inconsiderate cyclists can be a shock to other road users. But she is wrong to say that “cyclists don’t follow any sort of rules. Ever seen a cyclist stop when the traffic lights are red? No, they just whizz across the road.”

I do not want Bristol24/7 to feed the current culture wars. This helps nobody and further entrenches the false ‘cyclists vs car drivers’ narrative.

Judith’s piece contained several startling inaccuracies, much sweeping generalisation and – most inappropriately – a call to commit violence towards those on two wheels, whether she truly meant this or not.

It may have been an opinion piece but it still needed fact-checking; and since this article was published, we have tightened up our editorial processes for such pieces.

The Guardian recently made a video confronting some myths about cycling:

Backed up with statistics from the Department for Transport and Transport for London, the video reports that:

  • 88% of cyclists and 85% of drivers comply with traffic laws
  • 16% of cyclists jumped or anticipated red lights during a study of five major London junctions (but many of these people would have done this for safety reasons)
  • on average, 1,700 people are killed on UK roads every year; between zero and two of these deaths are caused by cyclists
  • in 2016, 448 pedestrians were killed in the UK; only two of these deaths involved cyclists

One reader in an email to me summed up the situation: “I can’t understand why you would publish a piece like this. A perfectly valid complaint is turned into a generalised rant talking about wanting to ‘murder cyclists’. Really? I appreciate the author is not a journalist but by publishing this piece you are giving the view validation.

“I cycle every day in Bristol, walk around most days and sometimes drive. I am not a cyclist or a pedestrian or a driver. I’m a person who uses various modes of transport. Assigning these identities to groups of people and then complaining about how every one of those people behave is just lazy and stigmatising.”

I am publicly committing to much higher editorial standards from Bristol24/7 in the future within our opinion section. You still won’t agree with everything we publish, but we will never again lower the tone of the debate.

Martin Booth is the Editor of Bristol24/7. His special skill is cycling both of his daughters and himself up Park Street on the same bicycle

If you want to share your opinion on anything from cyclists to cider, please email editor@bristol247.com

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